As the regular baseball season wound to a close, the Catholic catcher and first baseman of the Kansas City Royals made two brothers’ day by granting them an interview in the historic confines of Yankee Stadium. The man who was a top 10 hitter in the American League during the 1999 season spoke with Mike Pieczynski, 15, and his brother Steve, 11.
Pieczynskis: When did you first want to be a baseball player?
Sweeney: I first got the idea when I was five years old. I've played baseball every day ever since.
Who was your favorite player as a kid?
Brian Downing of the California Angels, and I met him just like you're meeting me today.
Who do you look up to now?
On earth, my dad — he's got a strong backbone, he's a good role model, has real integrity and great faith in Jesus. But my main, true hero is Jesus himself. He's the one who can save us, as well as pick us up when we're down.
What's a good leader?
Someone who can inspire others to do the right thing even when others are doing something wrong. Some good guys who are this kind of leader in pro baseball right now are Joe Girardi of the Yankees and John Wetteland of the Texas Rangers. Some guys will say “Hey, let's go to the bars, get drunk and run around on our wives.” Well, Joe or John would say “Hey guys, let's not.” Maybe not everyone would go along with them, but some would. These guys are also the first to say, “Don't miss Church.”
Is it important to set goals?
What separates people who succeed from those who don't?
Discipline — for example, you've got to sleep and eat right if you want to play well consistently. Also, faith — faith in Jesus gives you strength and discipline.
What role has your Catholic faith played in your success?
I'll give you an example. For two days before Ash Wednesday this year, I thought I might be sent down to the minor leagues or traded. I was the Royals’ third-string catcher. I went to Mass on Ash Wednesday and cried my eyes out. Up to that point, I had surrendered my life to the Lord, but not totally, so I said “Lord, six weeks from now (Easter, and opening day of the baseball season), I'm going to rejoice in your name, no matter what.” For the first time I totally surrendered my will to His. I felt total peace and freedom, no matter what was to come. As it turned out, I wasn't traded or sent down. In fact, I've had my best year yet.
Did you have to go to Church when you were a kid?
Yes, and I loved it. Now, as an adult, my relationship with the Lord is even more intimate. I'm even happier to go to Church now. You've got to make a choice to follow Jesus or not. Once you make that decision for Him, you're going to want to read your Bible and help others and go to Church. Jesus is number one in my life.
How does Christ make a difference in your professional career?
In pro baseball, I won't kid you guys, there are lots of temptations — girls, parties — but Christ gives me a foundation to build my life on. My teammates now know me and respect me so they don't ask me to do stuff that would compromise the integrity of my walk with the Lord.
What's the best part of being a pro?
It me a chance to be a role model for kids. Also, because professional baseball puts me up on a pedestal in people's minds, it gives me a good opportunity to deflect praise from me to Christ. When I sign autographs, I always put a Bible inscription on it. The kids will say, “What's this?” And I say, “Do you have a Bible at home?” They say, “Yeah,” and I say, “Well, go home and look it up!”
Can pros be good examples, and how?
Sure. You have to conduct yourself in a way pleasing to Christ, because I may be the only “Bible” that someone “reads.” Be a good Christian man, and you may help lead someone to the Lord — to make a decision to follow Jesus throughout their life, no matter what comes.
Any advice to Catholic youth who want to be the best at what they do?
If you want to be the best, think of Jesus standing with you at all times, because He is. Some people wear “WWJD” bracelets as a reminder. That stands for “What Would Jesus Do?”
Do other players know about your Catholic values, and do you think you can influence them?
My friend, another pro ballplayer, had been sleeping with his girlfriend. I talked to him and he ended up taking a vow of celibacy. He told her, ‘The next person I sleep with, if anyone, will be my wife.” So I think you could say that the Lord used me to influence him.
Thank you. My pleasure.